my boss favors one person on our team

A reader writes:

My boss supervises seven subordinates, and frequently goes to lunch with one in particular. Our boss travels quite a bit, so is often out of the office. However, when he is in the office, we all notice that he goes to lunch with his “favorite.” It seems that the “favorite” may sometimes initiate this, but the boss doesn’t turn him down. In addition, recently when I was with the boss and the “favorite” in the boss’ office, the boss thanked the “favorite” for helping him move some furniture from his house into a storage unit over the weekend.

This situation is noticed by everyone and it bothers all of us. While it may not be unusual for a boss to like one subordinate more than others, it seems unprofessional to make it so obvious. We all believe, but really have no way of proving, that the “favorite” is likely to be receiving better evaluations, pay increases, and bonuses. I do not believe that the “favorite’s” work product is any better, and may actually be a bit worse, than everyone else’s. I try to tune this out and simply focus on my own work, but it annoys me, and brings morale down. I don’t see what can be done about this other than finding a new job. Should I just suck it up, or move on?

Yep, you’re right — it’s unprofessional.

And this is a good illustration of why you really can’t be friends — or appear to be friends — with people you manage. Even if it’s not impacting your objectivity (a big “if”), you’ll still appear to be playing favorites to others.

You’re also right that there’s not really anything you can do about it. (Although you could certainly mention it if your manager’s manager solicits feedback on your manager at any point or if your employer occasionally solicits feedback, if you trust either of those options to keep your input confidential.)

As for whether you should leave over it, I’d say that depends on how much it’s impacting your own experience there. Leaving your favored coworker out of your thinking, do you feel that you’re treated reasonably well and compensated appropriately for your work? If so, I’d try not to speculate on whether the favorite might be getting MORE than you are, and focus on whether you’re happy with what you yourself are getting. If that’s not the case though, then that might be reason to look around — but then that would be the case even if your favored coworker weren’t in the picture.

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